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  • Ellema Albert Neal

Banned from Twitter: A Bridge Too Far


In a Perfect World: Man in Relationship with Others is the second volume of the Perfect World Trilogy. In the second volume we explore communication, meaning, and moral conflict resolution. When it comes to moral conflict there are three primary options people use to resolve the situation: persuasion, schism, and transcendence. Persuasion influences with logic and superior intellect. Schism is a breach created when persuasion fails. Parties distance themselves from the “enemy” and attempt to win by isolating, outnumbering, overpowering, or eliminating the other. Transcendence, which is our preferred and perhaps lessor known way of dealing with moral conflicts, is the art of creating new and healthy ways of thinking about the conflict. In 2018, I wrote an exposé on American political opinion on the social media platform, Twitter. It seems fitting to share this article today with the Perfect World Trilogy audience because it is relevant to the unprecedented non-peaceful transition of power we are witnessing in real-time. What we see happening today is perhaps the strongest case I can make for my readers to learn and practice intentional methods for communication to help achieve peace in times of conflict and crisis.

The worst-case scenario of unfettered political opinion, lies, and inciteful rhetoric on social media has played out over the past four years of Donald J. Trump’s tenure in the office of U.S. president. In 2021, we bear witness to the desperate attempts of the losing presidential incumbent that has included sedition, and orchestrating a coup and violent insurrection using Twitter and other social media platforms. Over the past four years he cultivated a culture of hate among millions of deluded and deceived supporters and later fleeced them for financial contributions during a pandemic and economic crisis. As of January 8, 2021, Donald J. Trump has been permanently banned from Twitter and suspended indefinitely from other major social media platforms as a result of his misinformation campaign to deceive his followers into believing that he actually won an election he lost by a landslide. In protest to Donald Trump’s use of social media, thousands of resisters, many of them celebrities, use their platform to counter Trump’s campaigns of psychological terrorism against the American people.

Actor Jim Carrey’s Twitter account and audience grew to viral proportions with scathing caricatures of President Trump and his political supporters. I personally follow Jim Carrey on Twitter. In 2018, one of my tweet replies went viral on Carrey’s Twitter feed about the 2016 Presidential election. Both sides of the conflict engaged in like combativeness and incivility (persuasion and schism). I concluded that the quality of social discourse on social media is a public safety concern that must be addressed through peaceful conflict resolution. Using coordinated management of meaning practices, I concluded from the Twitter feeds analyzed, a deep a deep cultural divide exists, rooted in a disagreement among Americans concerning the process and validity of presidential elections and the electoral college. Twitter might be able to ease the tension on its platform with a few simple rule changes; not to mention our government paying attention and reforming all things related to elections in our democracy.

On the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist bombing, I was reminded of the carnage that occurred on US soil that killed over 3,000 people and changed the face of a nation and the world forever. 9/11 was a tragedy, but it also served to unite an apathetic nation’s social life and discourse. The quality of national discourse matters because history has shown that violence and acts of terrorism ensue whether voices of anger are suppressed or expressed. This opens the gateway for discussion on the responsibility of social media platforms to manage speech as communications of meaning.

A clear example of suppressed anger was the 1994 Oklahoma City bombing, one of the worst acts of internal terrorism in U.S. history. Timothy McVeigh was the perpetrator of the bombing. In his letters, he claimed he wanted to send a message to the US Government that he justified his acts as morally and strategically equivalent to U.S. governmental conduct abroad. McVeigh’s cowardly and selfish act did nothing to further his cause and did more to personify the oppression he claimed to despise through the senseless deaths of 21 children.

Two decades later, Heather Heyer is run down and killed at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The white nationalists at the rally were expressing their Constitutional right to free-speech, but some of them chose to behave with the same murderous rage as a suppressed McVeigh. Given an opportunity to condemn murder as an act of political expression President Trump, contributed to the public discourse with his personal brand of anti-ethical perversion attributing blame to both sides. McVeigh’s words remind us that the unthinkable can be justified by the words and examples of leaders. On January 6, 2020 a deadly insurrection intended to disrupt the counting of electoral college votes that would seal the installation of the 46th president, occurred. The event was incited by months of lies and rhetoric on the part of the disgraced U.S. president, Donald J. Trump and his enablers inside and outside of the government. Trump’s Twitter and other social media accounts have since been suspended in the interest of public safety, and he is currently being impeached for the second time in less than two years. Clearly, words matter. It is not enough to simply give a voice to moral conflict and allow people their right to free-speech if the goal is to heal a nation and put an end to the normalization of murder as a form of political expression.

Moral conflict occurs when engrained beliefs and identities come to question among people who hold incommensurate worldviews. Both sides wish to silence the other—each believing the other is dangerous. Although the other does not need to have ever been a clear and present threat, the thinking of the other may lead to actions that quell the thoughts and actions of the opposing other is enough to stir confrontational feelings that can escalate. Rather than resolving the dispute, well-intentioned acts are mis-interpreted, and this intensifies and elongates the conflict. As a social media user, I often abandon the use of facts and persuasion when I discover that my attempts further divide and embolden the dis-compassion of the other side. The dialectic of moral conflict has become ubiquitous because of the Internet, but the tone and nature of the clash has not changed all that much. Individuals represent affiliation with a group by intangible means by which they perceive a morally good and ethically just political position that they assert proves that the opponent is either a fool or a villain. This sentiment was recently expressed by the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani as a way of priming and firing up the insurrection crowd. Do not for one New York minute, think, that President Trump and his enablers do not know exactly what they are doing when they use the words they do, when they do. They are banking on the dialectic of moral conflict to project and proliferate extremist identities with whom they are locked in an intimate embrace they reward with love and recognition.

The signs are easily read on social media for anyone paying attention. People clearly identify themselves with conflict when they choose symbols for the conflict as their profile picture or Twitter handle. Identification with a conflict is a powerful motivation to keep the conflict alive. Twitter might review their policy on member names and profile pictures to remedy this. Mediation is a form of transcendent communication that has often been used as a complement to the court system and other international forums. The Society for Professionals in Dispute Resolution (SPIDR) advocates methods of conflict resolution that could be taught in elementary schools as part of the basic curriculum. The Dispute Resolution Act was passed by Congress in 1980 but was never funded. Could now be the time? Twitter uses a form of mediation to guide conversations, but it is only used in circumstances when tweeters report others for violations. Having experienced the sting of insults and taunting threats against myself and others on Twitter that fell outside of their policies, I wonder if Twitter could act proactively to protect members and to elevate the quality of social discourse through education at the same time. Twitter might consider creating a series of conflict resolution video courses that members must take at various stages of membership. Members would also be required to exhibit a certain level of mastery in civility when engaged in moral conflict with periodic quizzes or account monitoring.

One argument against mandatory conflict resolution training and education on Twitter or any other social media platform might be that it alienates and silences those who are not willing to engage in problem solving, or who identify with the conflict to the degree that they have no interest in ending it, and that this might lead to more anger and violence. However, we have seen with our own eyes and direct experience that expression of anger does not deter violence, especially when violence is incited and supported by admired leaders. I believe that there is more to gain by improving the way people communicate when engaged in moral conflict than there is to allow the diatribe to continue. The quality of social discourse has been and will continue to be a public safety concern and should be responsibly addressed by the government and social media platforms that invite members to express their opinions on issues of a social, cultural, or political impart.


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